What to Know About the Umbrella Cockatoo

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 25, 2022
5 min read

The umbrella cockatoo (Cacatua alba) is one of 21 species in the Cacatuidae family. This bird is popular as a pet because of its friendly nature and fun personality. While they are native to only a relatively small area, you can spot umbrella cockatoos in zoos around the world. If you’re thinking of adopting or acquiring one as a pet, here are some umbrella cockatoo facts that you should know.

There are 21 species of cockatoos, or crested parrots, that are native to Australia and parts of Oceania. One of these is the umbrella cockatoo, which may go by several different names:

  • Umbrella cockatoo
  • White cockatoo
  • Great-white cockatoo
  • White-crested cockatoo

These names reflect the bird’s plumage, as the umbrella cockatoo has a big, feathered crest that it raises when it’s excited, curious, or on alert. When the bird lifts its crest, it fans out like an umbrella. Normally, the crest lies flat on the bird’s head. The umbrella cockatoo also uses its large crest to attract a partner during mating season.

The umbrella cockatoo has white feathers all over its body, except for yellow plumage on its underwings and tail. All cockatoos are mostly white except for some red, black, or yellow markings. The umbrella cockatoo has a curved gray beak that’s usually a bit bigger in males. Both males and females have a pale blue eye-ring, but their irises are different colors. Females have red irises, while males have dark brown irises.

Umbrella cockatoo size and lifespan. This bird is medium-sized and reaches up to 18 inches in length. The umbrella cockatoo can weigh between 17 to 25 ounces and its wingspan reaches around 22 inches. The average umbrella cockatoo lifespan as a pet is between 70 and 80 years if it’s well-cared-for and healthy. Wild cockatoos only live about 30 years, as they are an endangered species whose habitat is under threat.

In the wild, the umbrella cockatoo is considered an endangered species. It is native to the North Malaku islands in Indonesia in lowland and hill forests. Here, the umbrella cockatoo usually chooses to live in open fields, like farmland, or swampy areas, like mangroves. In either location, you can usually spot them in the treetops looking for food, where they spend most of their time.

The umbrella cockatoo lives on the islands of:

  • Tidore
  • Mandioli
  • Ternate
  • Halmahera
  • Bacan

While it can be spotted on some other islands in the area, it is not native to them. Experts believe that these birds are from a captive population that escaped and then reproduced.

Wild umbrella cockatoos pass the majority of their time looking for food. They mostly eat berries, seeds, and fruit that they crack open with their powerful beaks. However, umbrella cockatoos will also use their beaks to dig for roots, crack open nuts, or dig for grubs and insects.

Give your pet umbrella cockatoo a healthy, balanced diet. In addition to food pellets, you can give your bird things like:

  • Fruit
  • Some cooked root veggies, like sweet potatoes and turnips
  • Eggs and egg shells
  • Natural nuts
  • Raw veggies
  • Seeds 

You should never let your cockatoo have citrus fruits or avocados, even though these are fruits. Avocados can be toxic to these birds, and citrus fruits are too acidic for them.

One of the umbrella cockatoo’s primary methods of communication is by using its crest. As mentioned, a raised crest can indicate several different emotions. If you approach a cockatoo with a raised crest, this is a sign to be careful since it may be scared, upset, or feel like it needs to defend its territory. Cockatoos are not afraid to bite, either. However, a cockatoo lowering its crest may show that it feels calm or friendly around you and is welcoming you.

Wild cockatoos are social birds that can live in small flocks of up to 15 birds. In the afternoon, groups of up to 50 birds may meet up in the treetops to roost for the night. Umbrella cockatoos may be single for a while, but when they find a mate, they stay together for the rest of their lives. Together, they build a nest high up in the trees, where the female may lay up to three eggs.

Both the male and the female help to raise their chicks, but they will only select one to raise. If the first chick is healthy, that’s the one they will raise. If it’s unhealthy, they will raise the second chick. The chick will learn to fly but will still need help from its parents for a few weeks after that. Once it’s self-sufficient, a chick can join the larger flock of umbrella cockatoos.

If you’re considering getting a cockatoo, you should know that this pet has a big personality and needs a lot of attention. Wild umbrella cockatoos live in groups and mate for life, so they are never alone. As pets, they may expect your attention or to be near you all the time to fulfill this need.

Give your bird the attention that it needs to prevent any aggressive or irritable behaviors. Umbrella cockatoos that feel neglected may resort to screeching or chewing on their feathers. If you aren’t home very often or don’t have the time for this bird, it’s probably not the pet for you.

Umbrella cockatoo care. Umbrella cockatoos are curious and intelligent birds. They know how to use tools, such as using a twig to scratch their backs. This intelligence means that captive cockatoos need plenty of space and a lot of mental stimulation, in addition to your companionship. Cockatoos love to do gymnastics, move around, and climb. If they don’t have enough physical space or mental stimulation, they become frustrated and neurotic. Some will even pull out their feathers to the point of baldness.

When matched with the right owner, an umbrella cockatoo can be a great pet. If you’re thinking about adopting a bird, consider the species’ needs and personality, not just what it looks like. This bird is very loving and loves to play, so it could be a great match if you’re looking for a long-term avian companion.